Closed vs Open: The headphone debate

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Feature: Closed vs Open: The Headphone Debate

We are all no strangers to the term audiophile. People tend to throw the term around frivolously these days. However, I think it is fair to say that pretty much everyone enjoys music, and more specifically, listening to music. People have their tendencies and preferences, be it earphones/IEMs, speakers, or headphones. Looking into all of it would require at least a three thousand word article, so let us stick to headphones this time around.

Headphones sit snugly in the space between earphones and speakers, offering the portability of the former and the higher fidelity sound of the latter.

Philips SHP9500

Source: Philips

The Open or Closed question

The world of headphones is a hugely vast one, but there will always be one basic consideration when purchasing a pair of high quality headphones; open or closed?

The choice of open-back or closed-back headphones is a complicated one when it comes to sound.

Appearance-wise though, it is simple: open-back headphones have their outer earcups exposed, allowing air to flow freely into your headphones, while closed-back headphones are by definition, sealed at the outer earcups.

Both closed-back and open-back headphones have their advantages and usage situations, which is where this comparison comes in.

Audio Technica M40X

Source: Audio Technica

Advantages of closed-back headphones

  • Leaving the world behind (Isolation)
    • Closed headphones isolate the listener from their surroundings, allowing the user to absorb more details from the audio source.
    • Many studio monitor headphones, which are required to have a high degree of accuracy, are closed-back types.
    • Its ability to isolate the listener also makes closed headphones perfect for people who are constantly on the move or are in noisy environments.
  • Dat low end (Bass)
    • A closed pair of headphones typically provides a larger amount of bass.
    • The increase in bass is typically attributed to the greater control headphone manufacturers have over how the air in the closed earcup behaves, allowing these manufacturers to tune the headphones specifically for increased low end.
    • For genres like dubstep or hip hop, this is particularly advantageous.
  • Tougher than steel (not really)
    • The nature of closed headphones dictate that the earcup structure is more rigid than its open siblings.
    • This allows the entire construction of the headphones to feel more sturdy, making it ideal for daily use.
    • The closed back also protects the drivers from water and dust, a very real concern for people with open-back headphones.
Audeze LCD X

Source: Audeze

Advantages of open-back headphones

  • Natural Sound
    • Generally, an open pair of headphones will have a much more natural sound signature.
    • Unlike closed headphones that sound like the music is playing in your head, open headphones allow for a much better soundstage (the width and depth of sound) that expands beyond your head, allowing the listener to pinpoint the direction certain sounds come from.
    • Open headphones also typically have less bass than closed ones, but they make up for it with more natural bass (tighter and faster) and clear sound separation, meaning individual sounds and instruments are more defined.
  • Comfort & Breathability
    • We are all familiar with how warm and sweaty we get after prolonged use of headphones.
    • Open headphones ease this concern due to its breathable earcups, allowing air from outside the cups to travel freely towards the listener, cooling those warm ears off in the process.
    • This extra comfort can go a long way, especially for listening over prolonged periods.
  • Staying Connected
    • While closed headphones offer great isolation, it may also prove unwise in certain scenarios.
    • Open headphones allow the listener to enjoy their music while being alert to surrounding sounds.
    • This is ideal when used at home, saving one from the nagging often dished out by angry parents or partners when they try to get your attention.
Mr Speakers' Ether C Flow

Source: Mr Speakers’

Conclusion

Both closed and open-back headphones have their uses, and in an ideal world, the avid listener would have both. Closed for outside, and open when in the comfort of your home.

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If you’re a budget-conscious person who is interested in owning both types, you could get yourself started with a pair of closed Audio Technica ATH-M40x and a pair of Philips SHP9500.

Both pairs of headphones are similarly priced in the MYR400+/USD100 range, while making little to no sacrifices in sound quality.

For those with richer blood, you may want to consider a closed pair of Mr Speakers’ Ether Flow C, alongside the open Audeze LCD-X.

Both of these no-compromise headphones are priced around the MYR8,000/USD1,800 mark. Yelp.

About The Author

Kiron loves cars, music, would bleed for Manchester United and has a weirdly intimate relationship with pizza (don’t ask).